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Germanicus - Background to the Book

Germanicus is the second Corvinus book and came, to me, as a bit of a surprise since I’d intended Ovid as a one-off. As with Ovid, what I wanted to do was take a real-life historical puzzle (in this case, the death at Antioch under suspicious circumstances of the Emperor Tiberius’s adopted son) and - keeping within the historical facts - ‘solve’ it.

The ‘solve’ is firmly within inverted commas because - as I'm careful to point out in all my Author's Notes - I’m a writer, not a professional historian or an academic; nevertheless, I hope that as with all the ‘political’ books anyone reading Germanicus who is a professional in the field will come out the other end of the book thinking, ‘Hmm! Interesting!’ Certainly, it was a very interesting book to write, since to start with barring my classics graduate’s knowledge of the broad sweep of events I knew next to nothing of the details and didn’t have a ready-made solution; with the result that as I did my research and theories and unexpected links began to form both Corvinus and I were getting very excited about the implications of what we were finding out. I hope some of that excitement comes across; certainly, I hope the results provide a tenable backup for the eventual 'solution', at least in its fictional context.

Maybe I should say something here about my attitude to topographical research. I’ve never been to Antioch (I’d never, for that matter, been to Rome, until very recently. The topography of all the earlier books is based on a map of the city given in an ancient - but very good - classical atlas published in 1894). For me, research in general - not just topographical - is like an iceberg: only about a tenth of it actually goes into the book, but the other nine-tenths is needed to provide stability. In the case of Antioch's topography, my research file had lots of maps, sketches of buildings etc and descriptions of places which I never used and never intended to use; but since I prefer to get all my background research done before I start writing it was all necessary: once you’re writing you don't know which direction the character will take, and so you have to be familiar with the place as a whole, not just the parts of it you think will be relevant. If Corvinus had decided, for example, that he really, really had to see the inside of the Temple of Zeus Bottios then I’d have had to follow him in, and if I didn’t know already what the interior was like the effect would be the same as looking through a pair of these coin-in-the-slot pier binoculars when the money runs out and the shutter comes down, leaving you blind.

One little anecdote re the writing of Germanicus which says something about the weird way a writer’s mind works. I wrote chapters 18 and 19 (the voyage to Syria) in three or four days, which is par for the course; however, it took me another two weeks not to write chapter 20. Now I never - touch wood - get writer’s block, and once the two weeks were over the writing flowed as usual, so this puzzled me. It was only after the book was published that I realised what had happened, and then the solution was obvious: Corvinus had taken two weeks to get from Italy to Syria, and I had to wait until he got there before I could take up the story again. Weird, yes? That, though - I’m convinced - is the explanation.

If you haven't read Germanicus yet then I hope you do; and that you enjoy it for the story it is.

Best wishes

David Wishart (May 2006)

read the 1st chapter

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